Gloucester Fire, Housing, and Neighborhood Life

This morning, someone died in a fire in my neighborhood. My heart aches for them and theirs. There have been other fires, all of them terrible and sad too. There are many old houses in my town, and thought we don’t know the cause of the fire yet, housing has been on my mind.

I am a renter, been so for around 15 years in the area. I still have big questions:

  • How the hell am I going to afford a house, ever?
  • What if I buy a house that’s been flipped, and it burns down months later?
  • How safe is my family in a house that’s older than the one in the news?
  • How will my neighbors handle the new August property tax hike?


I am a mess of feelings about this, grateful for those who serve on Gloucester Fire and Police duty. Grateful that it wasn’t my space. Horribly sad for those who suffered and are suffering now. Proud that we have a hospital so close and so ready to respond. Scared it may happen to me one day.

What I *do* know is that you never know what’s going to happen next. Events like this are a reminder of how fragile, how precious, and how important life is, especially in a community that you love and trust. Not everyone is so lucky.

New Year’s Resolution: Don’t Forget the Little Things

Resolutions are stupid. Goals and a plan are much better IMO. My goal for 2016 is “don’t forget the little things”. For me, that means getting much better at JIRA.

There are some days where I wonder how all of this works. For weeks now, “seasonal” sickness has been taking its toll on everyone, families, workplaces, suburban and metropolis, doesn’t matter. Everyone has symptoms.

A sample of my 5am train ride early last week, thoughts:

  • zip your fly
  • kiss your son goodbye
  • bring home bag from work
  • collect homemade caramel corn jars
  • check the online gifts orders on the way home
  • (all the work things)
  • practice sanchin whenever possible without looking weird
  • buy more travel size tissues for backpack
  • queue up “thank you” holiday emails and tweets

This is why we have tools like JIRA and Trello. Put it in there, try to get it right, and remember to check it frequently. There’s too much involved in the plans to expect that large goals will be reached without something to keep it together.

JIRA and task completion is my focus this week.

Amazon Echo and the Future of Digital Privacy

Like every warm-blooded patriot of the Capitalism State, I own an Amazon Prime account. I vote, I pay taxes, I eat burgers, and I love the Boston Red Sox.

There are no less than 4 Amazon-driven devices in my house: FireTV, Kindle Whitepaper, Kindle Fire HD, and a Kindle Dash near the dryer. The thing is, that’s not enough. For them…or for my family.

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Alexa, Amazon’s newest home device, is about the size of a Quaker Oats tin, a compact but noticeable black cylinder that has a voice and listens to your every command. It’s a smart-speaker. It helps you play music when you want it, control lighting, remember appointments, and of course, place an order for something you’ve previously bought. It’s all very convenient, and it’s all very sinister too. Let me explain.

Imagine if you’re a company as large, as powerful, and as consumer-driven as Amazon. With limited exception, you don’t produce much actual product. Primarily, you facilitate. You’re a services company. You are driven by how many people prefer to use you over something else. You do everything you can, including anti-trust tactics to make sure that consumers do use you, your services, and your products. The only reason you care about devices, as much trouble to produce and maintain as physical things are, is because those devices are a delivery mechanism for your services. Nothing sinister so far, right? Well, then…

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When some other company wants to sell a product that competes with one of yours, like the pre-installed browser wars of the 90s, you wisely preclude them from selling their device in your marketplace (tough luck., Chromecast). You bundle your services and products in such a way that it’s a no-brainer  to the average consumer to ‘add-on’ their way through your ecosystem, many of them completely unaware of any other alternatives to what you offer.

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As a consumer, you develop a relationship to the company that gives your kids something educational to do every day, entertains you in the evening, delivers you your household items and groceries, hosts your websites, connects your devices, standardizes your co-workers’ software delivery pipeline, and generally make your life easier. But make no mistake, when theirs is the first online account that you update after receiving a replacement credit card, they’ve got you right where they want you.

Yet still, all of that control over your consumer’s lives isn’t enough. You need more; you need to listen to every word their saying.

So you create a cultural monopoly.

Challenge: How do you get freedom-fighting citizens of a democracy such as the United States to voluntarily live in a surveillance state? Not through politics.

Solution: Through technology. Invent devices that include microphones and/or cameras as a critical component to the purpose of the device.

Result: People line up to sign away their liberty.

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This should sound familiar. You already walk around with one on your person almost all day, every day. All major mobile phone platforms now have a feature for direct vocal interaction with its user. In many cases, this feature is enabled by default, which means that very easily your phone can be used as a surveillance device. Sadly, most people still think that their phone only listens to them when they ask it to. That is simply not the case, and I can prove it. Just hold up your Android with the feature turned on and, as if you were talking to a friend, say:

“I think it’s shameful, when I typed in the wrong thing to Google, then all of the sudden I was presented with a bunch of dildos”.

All Google hears is the last part of the sentence, and now it thinks you really like dildos. Lots of them. I’m not judging, it’s just a thought experiment. It gets worse.

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Imagine lawmakers who need to talk “in private” about how to deal with potential anti-trust activities that a company like Amazon is accused of committing. They’re talking over lunch, but one of them has a Fire Phone and this feature is turned on. It’s like Amazon has a way to live-stream private conversations, easily filtered and categorized by #Google because that’s how your device knows to listen up. We know other people have tried to do this nefariously. Imagine if you could do it legally?

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Consider business owners talking privately about confidential stuff in their own home, with Alexa carefully listening to every word you and every other person in the room say. Your abode, your sanctuary, becomes a chapter from 1984, simply because you want an easy way to know what the afternoon weather will be like and you currently have dough on your hands

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I find it strange that U.S. citizens get so angry when they are presented with facts on how the NSA has “secretly” listened to civilian conversations under the auspices of the Patriot Act and existing wiretapping procedures, but the same people line up at Apple stores for days when it’s something that brings them any marginal potential to simplify their lives. People will pass reforms before they even think about how traditional laws mean nothing to technology without formal transparency measures in place. They hastily scroll to the “ACCEPT” button at the bottom of a EULA that egregiously violates their digital human rights, and then are disappointed when the “convenience” factor isn’t up to their overblown expectations.

By them I mean me. I grew up with Asimov in one ear and Philip Dick in the other. Judgement Day was inevitable. Zero-One, the Machine City, was impenetrable. So I have a healthy dose of skepticism about pervasive technology and artificial value.

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But I also hope to see a world that works for me, not against me. I want my kids to grow up in an age where every new technology doesn’t automatically infer a forfeit of privacy and freedom. I want to know, not just feel, like better technology is a good thing, and I’m willing to pay for it, just not with my digital liberties. Me and my family are not royalty-free content, regardless of what our legal system lets tech startups get away with.

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I think we can do it, but it will take an ethical shift in how tech companies maintain responsibility and transparency in their use of user data. Something like a report from an independent 3rd party audit that details exactly what the company is doing with data points they collect about their users, activity, and reselling that data. That would certainly light a fire under SaaS-hole startups and enterprises alike to not be creepy. I don’t think they’d like that thought. Amazon, Google, IBM, Facebook, Twitter…they’d all send their best lobbyists.

How would you change this dynamic, the politics of digital privacy, and the inevitable impact of technology on your home life?

Unanticipated Editorial Control

I took down someone’s blog post of an event I was at two weeks ago.

All I did was to praise one of the panelists for the amount of mic-drop-esque quotations attributed to her, clear misquotes to anyone who knew how she speaks and who was paying attention. Not too many in both categories, sadly.

This is what social media and marketing gets away with all the time though. Content that is rarely verified by others in the know.

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After a back-and-forth over Twitter, making me sound like my focus was on her answers, the panelist and author direct-emailed the editor-in-chief of the offending blog expecting that it be corrected or removed. I will not share that email. Since the original blogger was already on Thanksgiving vacation, the choice was made to take it down.

Attached is the zip file of what once was before the DMCA-equivalent take down.

[archive] API Consumption at API STRAT_files.zip

My point in writing this is that it is not okay to treat people like a piece of content. If you don’t like being treated like a piece of ass, then don’t treat industry professionals like they’re personalities you can misquote.

With minimal effort, you too can exercise control over marketing ignorance, both in your own business dealings and in others. It’s as easy as starting shit on Twitter to help clarify misinformation right out in the great wide open.

When you are really invested, you worry

I watched a couple of guys help each other today. One of them wanted to test out a dory by paddling it around the harbor before selling it. The other didn’t want anything to do with the water on such a nice day.

I only began to take notice when the other pulled up to the local dock hurriedly, backing in to a double-spot closest to the water. Since we share a share a small neighborhood with him, I said hi and asked how his Thanksgiving was going. He told me fine and what his other was doing and how long it would take him to appear in the cove.

In previous years, I might have lauded how awesome it was that his elderly friend was rowing around in open water, but today I quickly and carefully responded by saying “oh” and asking him “how do you feel about that”? He sort of muttered quietly first and then said loudly “oh, it’s fine, he does things like this all the time”, and wouldn’t look me in the eye. After some chit-chat we moved off each other’s company, and in about 10 minutes, his friend’s two-person row boat peaked out from behind one of the lobster boats docked in the bay, with a guy in it, rowing slowly and steadily.

After navigating past the dock and to the rocks where the truck was parked, they carefully collected the small dory out of the water and navigated it up into the truck bed. The rower then proceeded to fasten the protruding boat to the truck with ropes and carabiners while the driver stood patiently out of the way enjoying the 50 degree holiday weather, free of anxiety and grateful for the salty harbor air.

When two people live together for the better part of their lives, like an odd couple mirroring the dynamics of other married couples, they develop a deep emotional connection to each other, the sweet bitterness of co-dependency. It is the bond formed between people who see more and more into each other, the wonders and the flaws, the longer they captivate each other’s curiosity and souls.

The best part of it is, there are dozens of examples of this fine form of relationship in my neighborhood. Men devoted to each other, women who have known from their first meeting that they were meant to live life together, and every other kind of relationship you can think of too. Single moms. Single dads. Parents of young and old. Grandparents. Young parents. Parents twice and thrice over. Kids made of the most creative and kind things in the known cosmos. Couples, singles, veterans, retirees. Humanitarians. Artists. Engineers.

It takes all kinds. It takes these guys, to make a world. We’re better for having them in it. They help us remember to follow the path of love back to each other.

Defrag 2015 Beforemath

It’s interesting to see themes change year after year. At an event like Defrag or Gluecon, it’s hard to ignore the voraciousness of curiosity. Tinkering.

Of course I’m interested in pretty much all of the keynotes, especially Sam Ramji. Pivotal and all it’s incarnations has been of interest to me for for years, the foundation just caught my attention because of its focus on contribution.

Fact is, the back-half of the first day is all about APIs. That’s where I’ll be. That and the SmartBear booth between sessions. There are big differences between last year and this year, and not just my hair and shoes.

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I come out here to have meaningful, real conversations. About everything, not just APIs, not just technology. I hope to elicit stories from people about their own experiences and challenges with the evolving connected landscape. As much as IoT isn’t a revenue thing right now, it is still in the forefront of my mind, on my radar and on the tip of my tounge.

Come find me.

Iteration, Maths, and Continuous Delivery

Recently I’ve been reading “Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid“. I also love to stare at trees, and this morning while waiting for the train, something occurred to me: “What is a tree without time?”

I’ll get to computer stuff in a bit, but follow me for a minute here.

Things take time to develop

We live in a multi-dimensional universe, and one of those dimensions we perceive as the passing of time. Strangely for its inhabitants, time appears to only go in one direction. Concurrently, iteration seems to have a “direction” as well. Just as with a single-dimensional line, you can iterate forwards and backwards. Time’s arrow shows us that’s how it works for us. The concept of “direction” in iterates is also well understood, but there seems to me to be an obvious correlation between time’s direction and iteration.

Back to the tree. My point is that the branches are just iterations of a simple instruction set. They look different, but it’s just a mixture of randomness and iteration. Like this picture of a hair.

A rendering of an iterative algorithm resulting in a shape that looks like a curly strand of human hair.

Watch the video below, but please come back and read the rest of my ramblings after you see this guy reproduce what looks like hair follicles in less than 10 lines of code:

Give me something really WILD to ponder

Warning => Conjecture: I am not a scholar, just a really interested party.

Also, this sentence is not true.

Nowhere in the universe we perceive exists an example of the opposite of iteration (let’s call that idea “statics”). We know that all physical things are part of spacetime. Quantum “jitters” show that even bodies at rest are not truly at rest. Empty space is never truly empty, virtual particles pop in and out of existence constantly. Could this just be way of spacetime alleviating itself of the need to iterate the physical dimensions to keep balance with the arrows in what we perceive to be non-physical dimensions? Or possibly how fractional geometry approaches the Euclidian sticky points in our perceptive capabilities, by iterating continuously ad infinitum? Boom.

How does a book about hair styles help me with a DevOps strategy?

“An Eternal Golden Braid” makes you think, hard. In most cases, that’s a good enough reason for me to read something. And I hate reading, but I love learning. That’s my opinion, go make your own up.

A key concept to keep in mind if you read this book is how entangled things get once you start asking very granular questions about relationships between the observable universe and mathematics (maths), maths and a definition of the self, and how far we can reduce a concept before it satisfactorily models the phenomena we uncover with math, science, and philosophy.

Iteration is present in maths, starting with the concept of zero, something it took us a long time as humans to identify. Take none, add one. Keep doing that until you reach infinity. Presto! Thanks to the simple concept of iteration, when mixed with literally nothing (zero), exposes the concept of infinity.

“DevOps” is an amalgamate term now, involved in everything from rapid iteration to deployment methodologies, distributed systems architecture to “soft” skills amongst team members. It’s all tangled up, which is not a bad thing necessarily. We need cross-disciplinary thought to help expand on how the practices we implement fit together, complement each other, and even conclude something which only causes problems and needs to be excused permanently (think M$ DCOM, Clippy, and maybe even gun control). I don’t like any of them.

How does this relate to continuous delivery?

I am a man who prefers science whenever possible, but I’ll settle for less than scientific if it has promise and until it is disproven. A few taking point came to me this week:

  • Fractional iterates lead to the concept of continuous parameters. Continuous parameters, isn’t that the software we’re building? Or is it us, the people AND the product? This sounds like some of the thinking we have around continuous delivery, loops of deployment and redesign.
  • Any time infinity walks in the room, everything goes to hell and no one likes a know-it-all at a party. Paradoxes abound. The concept of continuous delivery seems a bit like Dante’s seventh circle to me, in that nothing ever ends, it just goes on and on.
  • Like spacetime, the patterns we use and the goals we want to reach are not separable. Better practices lead to better results.
  • Like every tree, every good idea takes time, iteration, and a bit of [pseudo]randomness to develop into something great.

Use whatever processes, tools, and timeframes you need to, but exploring the philosophical underpinnings of continuous systems is kind of necessary if you want to do things better over time.

Can you give me something more practical so I can go home now?

Okay, sure. Here are a few things I’d do if I was a development or a product owner with a team of pangalactically skilled people on my team:

  • Have everyone read this book, or at least this MIT lecture video series on the book
  • Allow members of your team one day a month to play with any idea they want to, the sole purpose being that it is a test of how they manage themselves and accomplish personal goals
  • Iterate over the design of your processes, not just the design of your software; anything that’s working well, f*ck with it. Anything that’s not working well, replace it with something better.
  • Assign one person per week to be an agent of change by asking them to cross-train with other members of your team on one or two things they don’t know about. As the Joker famously said, “Introduce a little anarchy”, which I have seen work very well to upset the status quo in practice.

Good luck. Let me know how it goes.